The Enough of Sacred Love

Like I said, there were several things I didn’t get the chance to say or to get into very deeply during my PantheaCon session. This is one of them and this deserves its own space.

Contentment with one’s spiritual life and fulfilling satisfaction with religious experiences is a surprisingly elusive subject. Within paganism, when one is dissatisfied, one is entirely free (and may even be encouraged) to go and try out other forms of engagement. Without putting too fine a point on it, I think we rather feel that spiritual fulfillment is a human birthright; if this is a form of fulfillment that an individual desires, then that individual should be entirely empowered to go and achieve it. When that fulfillment is elusive it is time to try another form of achievement.

Because this broader paradigm places virtually the entire weight of spiritual fulfillment under the category of “things people can achieve on their own if they’re just left to their own devices to take care of” the idea that a person within this paradigm might experience dissatisfaction in their spiritual life and be unable to solve that problem is not one we frequently encounter. When it does come up, the advice usually runs along the line of helping the person feel empowered to take charge of what they want out of religious engagement.

People of more or less polytheist leanings tend to have a slightly more nuanced grasp of this problem. After all, no aspect of polytheist religious engagement is absent of the knowledge that this engagement involves some degree of input from personalities-not-ourselves – be they ancestors, land spirits, deities, guardians, and so forth (I call them collectively Powers for simplicity’s sake). Therefore, religious dissatisfaction within this paradigm may be in some way related to how the Powers fit into our engagement.

In terms of a polytheist devotional practice, such a thing might play out in feelings of dissatisfaction and feeling like one’s engagement is not enough because the desired satisfaction remains elusive. Because a polytheist devotional practice includes the Powers’ input into the engagement, dis/satisfaction with the engagement will also include some degree of dis/satisfaction related directly to the Powers.

Simply put, if a person thinks they’re supposed to be getting something very particular as a result of devotional engagement and that thing doesn’t occur, they will naturally wonder if they are doing something wrong in relation to the Powers. This leads very quickly to “I don’t have enough” syndrome.

“If I just did something different-”

“If I just had that expensive tool-”

“If I just read more books-”

“If I was just prettier-”

“If I was just more skilled-”

“If I just had a more dedicated practice-”

“If I just tried harder-”

“If I was just like this other person-”

“If I just had better skills-”

“If I was a better devotee-”

“If I was just better-”

“- I would be closer to Them.”

These thoughts are not just toxic. They are poison. They are corrosive. They will destroy your internal spiritual landscape until all that’s left is anger, jealousy, resentment, and self-pity. When this occurs our sacred beloveds are nowhere to be found; there is no room for Them anymore.

This particular variety of jealous, resentful anger has the potential to absolutely destroy you. It nearly did me. I still struggle with feelings of “enough”, with spiritual satiation, with accepting that I have divine relationships that are full and perfect and entirely complete. Some of us so strongly desire these Powers that we make any promise, do any ritual, compromise any shred of good sense just to get closer to Them.

I want to tell you that that’s not the way it works. You might think you’re getting closer to Them just because you have an impressive list of completed rituals and some impressive promises that you’ve inched just a little closer to Their shining proximity. It might seem entirely logical to change yourself to more closely resemble someone that you imagine sits near the Powers (whether this person is real or imaginary) so that you too could have a swallow more of that sweetness. But before long you’ve simply wasted a lot of time and gotten yourself tangled up in a lot obligations and lost yourself in the midst of transforming into some person you imagine would be better at this whole loving the gods thing – and nothing at all has changed. They are still as elusive and hard to grasp as ever.

You’re not any closer because you’ve failed to make sufficient effort. You’re not any closer because you actually aren’t that far away – you just think you are.

See, you’re actually perfect.

Everything about you and your relationships with the Powers is full and complete and perfect.

Nothing can change that perfection and it’s certainly impossible to make better; after all, it *is* perfect. Seeing it as anything else is to invite a tragic level of irreconcilable dissatisfaction – irreconcilable because if you look at any mystic or devotional poetry, you’ll see that the longing never ends. It never ends.

Our choice is to suffer as a result of seeing the contours of our sacred relationships as lacking some quality or to discover the absolute perfection that we are already part of.

Your relationship is perfect. Your relationships are perfect. This is their fullest expression and you already have it.

Get better at being in this relationship not because you want to fix it somehow; it’s not broken. No, you strive to improve it through improving your ability to savor it. You orient your mind to it and rest in its full perfection. The challenge is becoming calm enough to notice that it has been perfect all along.

(Some of us, sadly, are thoroughly cursed with desire that we will find no satiation in life. Perfection does not satisfy, but of course neither do our efforts cause anything to change in any meaningful way. Imagine trying to resolve this fundamental rejection of Things As They Are. Because I am who I am, I’ve looked for a third choice: I’ve settled for striving for contentment, not fulfillment, and I try very hard not to let this desire for something I can never have override my good sense – except that I have let it, multiple times even. It only ever ends in the very worst kind of tears.)

Reflections on Many Gods West

(This is a blog entry that was drafted way back on August 10! I kind of forgot about it, then remembered and felt bad about forgetting, then forgot, and then finally remembered and decided to do something about it. Keeping in mind that the thoughts written here are about six weeks old, I’d like to share them. Thanks for reading.)

Some of you have possibly been waiting for my write-up on Many Gods West, the polytheist conference I recently attended in Olympia, WA. I’ve been delaying making this post because the whole experience has taken a while to percolate thoroughly through my brain and because only now, a week later, am I starting to feel recovered from the anxiety and fatigue of the whole thing. It was a very positive experience and I’d do it again in a second but, like many other attendees have expressed, an introvert nature is quickly exhausted with all the socializing and (at least in my case) with the stress of being away from home and familiar environs.

What? An introvert? With all the great conversations I had and socializing I did? Well, yes. You might have noticed me short circuiting from time to time and simply losing the thread of conversation entirely. That was stress. Also exhaustion. Oh, and possibly some long-term damage from psychotropic medication. Wheee….

(I’ll add that I was also dealing with persistent, near-debilitating symptoms of an as-yet-undiagnosed problem that has neurological components. I haven’t talked about this here because I’m scared of it and haven’t wanted to deal with it. I have an appointment in about 6 weeks and we’ll see what happens next. Anyway.)

Occasional challenges with communication aside, I had a number of exceptional conversations and it was nice to “talk shop” with a few people. I started to think that perhaps the spirit work path wasn’t so entirely finished with me after all. This is a very strange thing to think after all this time.

My session went well and I’m really grateful that so many people showed up and shared their thoughts with me. The presentation itself was a little rough around the edges. This was entirely my fault; I usually do a trial run of new material before presenting it but I simply didn’t have a chance this time around – and it showed. I have a great deal of confidence in my central message – that we can talk about the value of devotional practice in a direct and analytical way without detracting from the mysterious and emotional quality of these experiences – but the material needs some work. Still, many people thanked me for the material and I’m really glad that I was able to bring something valuable and thought provoking to their attention. The opportunity to share my work is always very special to me and I want to continue to refine this part of my community service. I really do love it.

People at the conference asked me if my presentation and/or PowerPoint would be made available online. I’m sorry to say that at this time neither will be. Because these presentations are often part of my writing work, I don’t wish to distribute material before it is ready for publication. Also, the speed that content can disseminate and the complete lack of attribution that often goes along with this spread makes me reluctant to release anything into the wild, so to speak; there is no way that I can keep my name on this material or prevent it from being hijacked by someone who might cast it in a very different light or attach it to an agenda that I don’t support or agree with. If you missed it or wish to revisit the material, don’t despair; there’s a chance that I will present this material again in the future and there’s a good chance that I’ll clean it up to the point that it’s ready for formal or informal distribution.

I did not get to attend as many sessions as I hoped to. I was dealing with varying pain levels throughout the weekend (I really should have used my cane more than I did) as well as marked fatigue as a result of stressing about travel for, like, two weeks prior to departure. I did get to attend Elena Rose’s session on Monster narratives; so many thinky thoughts and so many feely feels. This was a great session and I certainly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend this presentation in the future to do so. They keynote address was also very nice and I’m glad the text has been made available online.

John Beckett’s session was also quite thought-provoking, though in a different way. I appreciated him challenging us to think about the future of our tradition(s) in different ways and to consider the role that structure plays in longevity. He also touched on something that’s been turning over in my own mind for a while – that we should be more specific about what sort of work we ask for from our clergy and leaders. Stressing the essential involvement of laity was also an important part of his message. I have always appreciated John’s practical stance on the doing of religion.

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My drafted entry ends here. Adding to it, I’ll say just a few more things. I got to have many conversations with many different people, some of whose names I’ve forgotten or didn’t catch so I can’t shout out to everyone individually. It was great to see Ember, who I’ve known for a while but haven’t gotten to spend any time with in several years. My dear friend Krei and her partner offered me hospitality before and after the conference; it was such a treat to see them both. Sharing a room with my friend Xochi was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better and I can’t wait to see them again. Short conversations were had with Danica (Skadi’s shrine keeper), PSVL, Anomalous Thracian, and several others that I hope can be revisited again.

One of the reasons that I chose to go to Many Gods West was because I needed a spiritual jump start and seeking the association of religious peers is a good way to accomplish this. I had some very important realizations, including the one about spirit work mentioned above; since then several important strides along this path have taken place and I’m still adjusting to my new normal. I also realized that at some point in my past I had made the conscious decision not to love myself. This explains quite nicely why all of my efforts at deeper levels of self-work have all run up against this screaming psychological block. I have to trust that this block was put in place for a good reason, but now that I know its name and nature, I can begin to dismantle it.

As of a couple days ago, MGW 2016 has been announced. Aside from the fact of its existence, I don’t know anything else about it yet – and I’m already planning on attending. I’m brainstorming a couple programming submissions, at least one of which will be entirely new (it will also be given a full spectrum of preparation, unlike this year’s – sigh).

I’m incredibly grateful to Nikki and Rhyd and PSVL and all the other organizers for making this event happen. It fills a distinct need in the community and has inspired a lot of thinking and doing on the parts of many people, including myself. I look forward to next year!

Pre-Order Continues! Also a story.

Thank you all for the overwhelming response to the pre-order for the hand bound copies of Worshiping Loki. As of now, nearly half of the 20 volumes have been reserved and paid for. If this is something you’re interested in, I suggest getting in contact with me soon. (To order, email me at salinespirit@gmail.com and provide me with your shipping information and Paypal email address if you have one. I’ll generate a Paypal invoice that can be paid with credit card, debit card, or Paypal balance.) In the meantime, I’m already cutting cover boards for these volumes and I’ll be purchasing additional sheets of cover paper and book cloth soon.

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This little book came about in a very curious way. In the nearly 15 years I’ve been a Lokean I’ve come across the same questions over and over – and over and over – again. “I want to worship Loki; how do I get started?”, “How do I build an altar?”, “How do I do ritual?”, etc. etc. People more patient than myself have been answering these things for a long time and have certainly done a great service to newcomers. Earlier this year I suddenly wondered why someone didn’t just write a book answering all these basic questions since the answers were always the same.

And that’s how it started.

I knew I didn’t want to write about Loki in a Heathen context. Other people have done that and frankly I’m not entirely convinced that doing so again is really necessary. While I think having a grounding in the fundamentals of Norse polytheism is helpful (and it’s certainly respectful), the fact that Loki worship has turned into some weird ideological pissing match makes current Heathenry a really hostile environment to newcomers. I also don’t believe that Loki is limited to this context. Except for the highly appropriate courtesy towards cultural context, there’s absolutely no reason why a person needs to participate in current reconstruction Heathenry in order to worship Loki. This book therefore is not grounded in Heathenry. Though I state as much in the introduction, I’ve no doubt that people will leverage this as a negative criticism. (I invite them to step up and write their own damn book.)

Aside from not wanting to go back over ground that’s already been covered in better ways by better authors, I wanted primarily to provide practical information that could be immediately applied to one’s practice goals. Providing an ideological and theoretical background is undoubtedly part of how practical information should be shared but again: other people have done it already.

Related to the desire for a practical emphasis, I wanted to empower people with the fundamental skills to make religion happen for themselves. Expressing hospitality towards the Powers, arranging a space for them, and then expressing praise and worship in a constructive way are all essential skills in the actual doing of religion. Polytheism should be empowering to individuals. We can and do rely on religious specialists the same way that we rely on, say, chefs. This doesn’t mean that we eat every meal out. Knowing how to provide for our day to day religious needs is important and part of what makes paganism on the whole a very powerful thing. I wanted to make this very clear to readers.

And finally, I wanted to talk about discernment in a way that didn’t rely on any kind of psychic context. Discernment can and should be a logical, reasoned approach to problem solving in a religious context. By divorcing discernment from the realm of psychic woofoo, I hope to make polytheist Loki worship even more accessible to people.

All these goals were swirling around in my head as I started writing. I wrote a few thousand words and then got bogged down in a lot of self doubt. Self doubt is my primary demon. I questioned the wisdom of removing Loki from a specifically Heathen context – never mind that He’s been disowned by many voices in Heathenry. I wondered if I should include yet another pointless reiteration of stories that other people had told better. I wondered if I should talk about reconstructionism despite not being a recon polytheist myself. I wondered if I really had that much to say. I let the project stall.

Quite unexpectedly I got an order through my Etsy shop for a custom devotional volume. This listing is for a hand bound volume with content that the buyer provides. It’s a great way to present one’s ritual records, devotional poetry, or really anything. The buyer misunderstood some of the details of the listing and asked for a book on Loki – specifically a book on Loki worship. A book on Loki worship that would providing information on things like how to set up an altar and do a ritual.

To reiterate: I was being asked, by a stranger, to write the very book I’d been working on for Loki. I’ve rarely received such direct direction.

Because it was a formal order through Etsy I had a hard shipping deadline to meet. I had to finish the manuscript, edit it to some presentable state, format it for printing, get it printed, and do all the rest of the fiddly steps involved in hand binding a book in about six weeks. Worshiping Loki: A Short Introduction is the result.

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Is this little book everything it could be? I’ve no doubt that I could have done more but at a certain point I felt like I wasn’t providing anything unique anymore. I wanted to present information that was fresh and hopefully interesting. This book shouldn’t be your only reference for Loki worship but I hope that it provides something that no other book can. I hope that it helps empower you to do religion for yourself, to make spirituality occur on your own terms, with the Powers you love most.

The Mouse’s Bride

When I was a child, my mother read to me a book called The Mouse’s Bride (at least, that’s what I think it was called). It was a picture book about a mouse who went off into the wide world to search for a bride. He wanted to marry the daughter of the most powerful creature on earth and so went looking for that creature. He went to the sun, the cloud, the wind, and finally to a tower before finally settling on a mouse bride. Over and over his protest was that if his bride wasn’t the daughter of the strongest creature in the world, he didn’t want a bride at all.

As a child I found this story frustratingly hard to understand. Family financial instability taught me early on that compromise and settling for less was simply the way life worked; if you couldn’t have the thing you wanted, you’d have to manage with something lesser or with nothing at all. The mouse’s insistence on something that was the very best of anything and his refusal to accept anything second was very confusing.

As an adult, I understand this story a little better.

Not long ago an acquaintance of mine expressed surprise that my home wasn’t simply swimming in altar icons. I suppose that’s justified; most pagan who’ve been around the community long enough accumulate all kinds of witchy shit. I have a lot of weird books but that makes up the biggest share of witch shit. I definitely don’t have icon figurines or even a lot of pagan-flavored artwork. I’ve used the same color printout for Loki’s icon for, uh, 13 years I think. His first icon actually printed out hot pink. I used that for a year at least, probably two. But bottom line, I really have comparatively few.

I’ve been getting to know Loki’s feminine aspect for several months now; this relationship has actually been intensifying over the past few years and it shifted to our main mode of interaction a while ago. She doesn’t have Her own altar exactly; Loki simply has Loki’s altar. Though Loki is only ever just Loki, I’ve found it useful to treat the two as distinct entities (not different, not separate, but distinctive). Loki’s altar has a feminine mode and a masculine mode; Her icon is veiled in feminine mode, generally uncovered otherwise.

I’ve thought about making an altar for Her because She deserves one. In this home, She’s pretty much entitled to one. Why wouldn’t She be? The icon was a bit of a sticky issue. I hadn’t ever seen images that struck me as both suitable for use as an altar icon and illustrative of Her character to a degree that it would be evocative of Her presence. Only one really came to mind and I couldn’t find a large enough version to make it worth printing out. (There are actually more potential altar images of Her out there than ever before, which is really excellent.)Loki

Clicking around through Etsy I came across a listing for a pair of prints by a California artist – andthere She was. The picture wasn’t perfect, wasn’t really HER, but it was close enough to be the reminder that icons ought to be and it was well-done enough to be worthy of a place on an altar. I saved some money and bought the pair. They were both nice, but one was especially ideal.

The little package finally arrived today. I hurried home from work imagining that I’d set up the altar cabinet I’ve been working on, find a nice frame, and have a welcoming home ceremony to integrate this new image into my spiritual home. But looking at the picture as it came out of the package something was wrong. Something was deeply, fundamentally wrong and I remembered the mouse and his all-consuming search.

My disappointed, sullenly angry reaction told me that what I was looking for wasn’t an altar icon. I was actually hoping to bring home in visible form something else entirely. When that didn’t happen, I was immediately sad.

The pictures are lovely, there’s no problem on that count. No, the problem was me and my expectations and hopes and desires.

In spirit work and in devotional practice, it is essential to learn from our emotional responses. We have to learn from ourselves, from our expressions in this world and our reaction to it, because we have no other doctrine to study. We are our own teachers. This might suck and we might feel resentful over the fact, but fact it remains. Our devotional relationships occur in the private spaces of the heart; no witness or guide is present except for Them. Spirit work too occurs in a place no human can follow. When we long for the presence of human teacher it’s important not to forget our very first human teacher in this work: ourselves.

This experience reminds me to be conscious of my motivating desires. What I want is Her. What I got is a picture. What I wanted was Her, so I decided the best way to get Her was by buying a bit of wood pulp and ink. What I wanted is Her and at some point I decided that She could be purchased and possessed and held and framed. I wanted Her and never noticed that I was trying to pay shipping for something entirely separate from Her.

You see how the breakdown between desire and hope and expectation and final result can occur? It happens an awful lot.

Contrary to what some detractors might say, idol worshipers generally don’t place the entire weight of divine presence into a single physical object. These items are at best a window, a vessel that concentrates a small portion of divinity into a time and place so we can better notice it. Someone actually familiar with the Power in question would not be inclined to think otherwise, I imagine. Therefore expecting such an object to be more than what it has an inherent capacity to be – a window, at best – is folly.

Well, no one has ever been able to accuse this mouse of excessive wisdom.

She will be welcomed home with full celebration. She will be loved and honored and cared for with as much attentiveness as my meager mortal mentality is capable of. Hopefully I will not make such a painful-to-me mistake again for a long time.

(Yes, there will be pictures but not until everything’s set up and I stop feeling sorry for myself.)

Using Prayer Beads – Part 2: Getting Started

As part one made clear, prayer beads are used in many faith and cultural traditions and have been very a very long time. They are used in different ways though most frequently as an aid to focus and concentration during prayer and contemplation.

Polytheists and pagans are often attracted to the idea of prayer bead use because these tools themselves are attractive. Colorful beads, soothing textures, and meaningful imagery all combine to create an object that invites touch and engagement. Do you experience the sensation of “grabby hands” when you see a string of prayer beads? That’s OK – that’s supposed to happen. 😉

Let’s say you have a string of prayer beads that you bought because you liked the way they looked. You have the desire to use them but just aren’t quite sure how to get started. What kind of practice is best for you? How can you make your prayer beads work? These questions are quite common among new prayer bead users, especially those who don’t have a background in their use.

Since prayer beads are often used as focus during prayer or worship, let’s first identify what you wish to focus on. Is there a beloved Power you would like to pray to? Is there a situation that you want to send good energy towards? Is there a Power that you would like to get to know better? Identifying the subject of your focus is the very first step.

“But,” you might say, “I want to focus on Loki and Kali and my friend’s cat and people without jobs and also dolphins and maybe I need a new bike and…”. Hang on, let’s just deal with one focus at a time. You *can* use your prayer beads for all the things you wish to focus on, but it’s best to address one concern at a time. If you want, you can also have a separate set of beads for each topic; for instance, you might have a set of beads for Loki, one for Kali, one for sending healing energy to animals, one for helping people, and one for helping yourself. No matter whether you have one set of beads or many, the first step will always be selecting your focus and then sticking to it.

Just for this example, let’s say you want to get to know Loki a little bit better. When it comes to Powers – deities, spirits, ancestors, and any other entity – names matter a great deal. You can use their name to get in contact with them. Calling their name with respect and love is the first and greatest magical formula of all. They *will* notice and they’ll respond – when they’re ready.

The very simplest (and arguably best) way to use your beads in this imagined scenario is to repeat Loki’s name on each bead. As you say His name, recall His stories, attributes, titles, and so forth. Hold on to that feeling as you repeat the name. You can repeat His name out loud, under your breath, just by moving your lips, or in your mind. I recommend saying the name softly to yourself, just loud enough to hear. This will help keep you focused.

Simply keep going until you finish the whole round. Then you can stop and do it again later. You can repeat this cycle of prayers multiple times a day if you’re really dedicated or you can aim to do it a few times a week. It really doesn’t take very long. You can do multiple rounds in one sitting, if you like (I personally aim for two).

You  can make each name a little more complicated if you like. You can recite His name multiple times on each bead, or recite a group of names (for instance, you might say, “Loki, Lodur, Lopt” on each bead). You could recite a title on each bead along with a name – “Loki, Mother of Witches, Father of Monsters”. You could include a word of praise on each bead – “Loki; hail!”.

A simple prayer is ultimately best when you are just getting started. Using names and phrases already fixed in your heart and memory will prevent forgetfulness and will help you focus on the purpose of your prayers rather than on trying to remember what you wanted to say.

Next time, I’ll talk about some ways that you can apply the recitation of prayers to your practice. Though there are many different ways that you can do this, it always comes back to the same thing: fixing your mind of the thing you care about and then celebrating it with your words.

Handmade Loki Devotional Give-Away!

I have some great news to share! Thanks to the generosity of donors, the fund fed by sales of the Loki devotional has reached capacity. It’s time for a giveaway!

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This giveaway is for one copy of the handmade Loki devotionals that I have for sale on Etsy. These books are hand bound, so each one of them is entirely unique. Lush red paper with black and metallic gold marbling decorates the cover; this paper is handmade and gives each volume an even greater distinctive character.

The winner will receive one copy of the book and complementary shipping. This contest is open to international entrants; any additional shipping charges will be covered by me. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are already $9 towards the next giveaway.

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To enter, all you need to do is comment on this post and say you wish to participate; please include your preferred email address, as well.

Entries will be received until 11:59 PM on Saturday, June 13. Everyone is welcome to reblog and share this post so as to spread the word as much as possible. Thank you everyone for you continued support of this devotional project.

Using Prayer Beads – Part 1: What Are Prayer Beads , Anyway?

As I’ve made strings of prayer beads for my Etsy shop, I kept coming across pagans and polytheists wanting to use these items in their personal practice, but not knowing how to actually get started. To address this, I wrote a pamphlet that is included with each order of beads through my shop but I have much more to say on the subject than can fit in a few columns of text. Since I don’t think you should have to buy prayer beads in order to learn how they can be used to enrich your personal spiritual practice, I decided to dedicate a blog entry or two (or three!) to the topic. First, it’s helpful to say outright that prayer beads, worry beads, and other beads-on-a-string have been used by many different faith traditions and cultural groups. This is quite possibly because beads themselves are very, very old. They are one of the first artificially crafted adornment used by human beings. Beads have been found in graves and burial sites from long before recorded history. The beads we find today dating from that period are generally stone or shell since these are the materials that endure being buried for thousands of years. In addition to stone and shell, today we use metal, wood, glass, plastic, ceramic, and composite beads most frequently; coral, pearl, fabric, and paper are also used for bead creation. Other items, such as tightly closed flower buds can also be strung on a string in the same manner as a bead. Popcorn and cranberries are still sometimes strung as part of a family’s Christmas decorations in the United States (and no doubt elsewhere). Today we generally associate prayer bead use with Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions; however, Muslims, Sikhs, and members of the Baha’i faith also use them. There is also growing interest among Protestant Christians in the use of prayer beads; other Christian traditions also make use of different types of counters to keep track of prayers. People who have no particular faith affiliation use them as a tactile focus during times of stress or when focusing on a particular dedicated course of action (such as sobriety). I personally think that prayer beads would be especially helpful to people who do distance healing on behalf of others or who frequently send energy towards a particular purpose. Prayer beads can be approached from a faith-oriented perspective or not. It’s not necessary to identify with a particular religion in order to use a string of prayer beads, especially if you are using a string not designed in adherence with any particular tradition. The beads I make, for instance, do not contain 108/54/27 beads like malas do nor are they organized in decades like a rosary – though I could certainly make some that do. I chose not to adhere to a traditional number or arrangement because the prayer beads I make aren’t specific to any tradition; each user can choose for themselves how to arrange their prayers. MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAPrayers, of course, are primarily what prayer beads are used for. Each bead is a moment of focus where the user’s attention is given specifically to the name of a particular Power, their titles and celebratory greetings, a sacred formula, or a phrase created to affirm a specific purpose or goal. Prayer beads are very helpful when trying to focus the mind on a particular magickal or spiritual outcome. The repetition of, say, the intention of directing healing energy towards someone who has requested it, helps ensure that a full measure of energy is clearly sent. It’s one thing to simply say, “Yes, I’m sending energy now”; it’s quite another to sit down and say that for five or ten minutes. Prayer beads are excellent aids for meditation, too. A neutral, affirmative mantra or phrase helps focus the attention; this focus is further emphasized by the physical act of holding the beads between your fingers. A string of prayer beads also lets you celebrate the name or titles of a beloved Power. Saying a sacred name over and over again firmly establishes Them in your mind and heart. Calling on a Power you wish to become acquainted with is also possible. Powers are quite sensitive to their names being called and will certainly respond sooner or later (though of course they might simply say, “Enough already; we’re not a compatible match.”). So that’s all for the first part of prayer bead basics. Next time I’ll talk about how to create your own prayers and spiritual formulas for use on a string of prayer beads.

Who She Is – a new chapter in the Work

I’ve debated a bunch over how much to talk about my personal practice and about whether or not such a thing is even all that helpful. I have come to value and enjoy my privacy a great deal; it’s a way to keep myself safe and sane. It’s absolutely surreal to have in-person conversations with strangers regarding something I wrote online. I’s weird enough when it’s local friends talking about the Facebook post I made about a soup recipe; when it’s about emotionally-heavy spiritual issues it can be even harder to deal with. I often imagine myself having conversations with strangers and judging my level of disclosure based on my imagined comfort.

All this is to say that I’ve thought quite a bit about this particular subject and how to talk about it and if I should at all. Ultimately I feel that this information whose time has come and I’d like to help boost its signal as it emerges from intangible dimensions.

Like I’ve said before, the feminine Loki isn’t a different entity. She’s entirely herself, entirely Loki; She is as central, as “default” a form as Her masculine side. That He’s the face most people encounter is His own choice and doesn’t reflect that one aspect is more fundamental or authentic. As to why He seems to favor a masculine expression one needs only glance at the extant lore; His actions as a feminine being are consistently derided and spoken of in highly negative terms.

(This last part is perhaps especially relevant to those who understand the Lokester as a damaged, injured, or fragmented Power. Much of His trauma is situated in Her. She’s not damaged, per se, but She is a site of contested identity and value; one can interpret His reticence as a way of protecting this vulnerable and volatile self.)

Getting to know Her is, perhaps, predicated upon a willingness to accept Him precisely as He is. Though I think many of His worshipers would say that yes, they accept Him precisely as He is, this kind of radical acceptance isn’t limited to a comfort with, say, holding as equal both the worldbreaker and magician aspects of His personality. This kind of acceptance also encompasses patience with His absences, His distractions, and His variable moods. Acceptance of His nature is demonstrated by, for instance, genuine and wholehearted acknowledgement of His multitude of partners and lovers. (One doesn’t have to like them all on a personal level but acknowledging the reality of, or the potential reality of, these relationships without obstacle-level jealousy is an expression of one’s acceptance of Him.) The same goes for His myriad worshipers. Personal fondness or even agreement isn’t necessary; acknowledging the reality of another worshiper’s practice and emotional experience is.

There is also a level of personal strength that must be developed while learning to accept Him as He is. One has to learn to count on personal intuition, experience, and problem solving ability in order to approach acceptance. After all, authentic acceptance is probably impossible to achieve unless you trust yourself first. Otherwise there’s nothing but second-guessing and anxiety. (I’ve been there; I know what it’s like.)

No; accepting Him fully isn’t easy. I’ve encountered a lot of shadow work as I’ve striven for greater levels of acceptance. I still have much work to do.

Of course, there’s no formula to convincing Himself to appear as a feminine being. She does so at Her pleasure, to whom and when She wishes, for Her own private reasons. Though I’ve been aware of Her for a long time, it wasn’t until just a couple years ago that She became a regular fixture in my spiritual life and I’ve been a Loki worshiper for nearly 15 years. Though I hope you don’t have to wait quite so long to make Her lovely acquaintance (and if my efforts and others’ to draw Her more fully into this world are successful, you won’t!), there was a lot of work I had to do on myself first. I also had to complete various other work I was doing with other Powers.

Wait – what was that little parenthetical statement? Yes, it’s true. I do sincerely feel that the work I’m doing in my own practice and that I hope to inspire in yours makes Her more accessible to those who love Her. I hope to give Her a greater foothold here to make Herself known. The surge in open expressions of Loki veneration in the last five years or so might have various cultural drivers but there is a spiritual component to this, too. Loki worship has been going on since at least the mid 90’s and no doubt happened before then, too. (And people say we have no history!) All that is paying off in greater accessibility of this delightful Power.

So how to get started? I’ll talk more about this soon. In the meantime, here’s a collection of colors that I strongly associate with Her specifically. Imagine a bright, brilliant sunset with lots of coppery oranges, mauve pinks, and silky purples. There’s Her. Lots of vivid light somehow limned with deepening shadows. herself

When Lines Blur

You might be aware that it happens but you don’t think it’ll happen to you: You think you know a Guy and suddenly He might be someone else. Perhaps the One you’ve been praying to for month or year – or decades – slips off the mask and a new face appears. A new form, unfamiliar faces, unexpected attributes rise to the surface of Their presentation and you’re left feeling confused, betrayed, and upset.

Have the emotions been lies? Have the words They’ve spoken been falsehoods to lure you into believing something that wasn’t ever true? What of the promises made, the vows spoken, the ordeals undertaken, the faith kept? Can you trust anything They’ve said at all? Can you trust yourself anymore?

It happens. It happens more than you might expect. In fact, for polytheists this kind of categorical disruption is almost – but not quite – entirely  normal.

Except that it’s not, you know? The books don’t mention that the Gods can change. Our kindred leaders and religious guides don’t talk about the time that Anubis was Coyote was Aphrodite. We don’t swap stories at meetups about confused identities and the complex knotted mess of faith and vows and promises left in the wake of Their coming out. This experience is turned into a solitary ordeal endured quietly in the most private corners of our hearts and minds. This happens because not only have we individually been chastised for being too emotional, too devoted, too enthusiastic in our embrace of a divinity, but because we now have to admit that – on some level – we were wrong.

In that admission is an immense ocean of tumultuous accusation. We should have known better. We should have studied harder. We should have joined an orthodox group instead of striking out on our own with our cat spirits and faery guides and dream life lived Somewhere Else. We should have stopped watching anime in high school. We should have read a scholarly book or two. We should have listened to our elders – you know, the ones who never told us that anything could go wrong on the path to spiritual growth.

It’s a lie, you know. It’s all a lie.

I’ll tell you a truth: You’re not wrong.

You’re not wrong to experience the Gods changing shape. You’re not wrong to experience the blurring of lines, the erasure of titles, the disruption of names and familiar forms.

The lie is that this never happens. The lie is that you’re doing it wrong if it happens.

That’s not a lie I’m willing to perpetuate.

This kind of disruption happens for many, many, many reasons, not all of which are even able to be spoken aloud. Some of these reasons are for the Gods themselves to explain to you, in Their own words, in Their own time. Some of these reasons are for you to discover yourself as you experience the unpleasant growth that is forced during this period.

You’re not wrong to feel this way.

You’re not wrong to want to pitch the whole thing, to toss it in the dumpster in the alley out back, to fling the books out of the window of a moving car, to delete your blogs and Facebooks and emails and mailing list memberships. You’re not wrong to want to change your name.

There is no easy way out of this. Sorry/not sorry. This experience is the path teaching you something that you need to know. I can’t tell you what that thing is because there are lots of possible lessons to learn in this. It might be that you need to get to know yourself a whole lot better. It might be that you need to exercise that backbone you just grew. It might be that you need to let go of what you thought you know, what you trusted because someone else told you was true. It might be that you need to grow the truth for yourself and that can only happen through personal lived experience.

Names, forms, attributes – these things are mostly convenient for us. The Powers don’t need them in the same way we do; they have a very different relationship to Their names and forms and attributes than we do. However, They have a degree of ownership over these things that gives Them permission to move them about as They wish. The Powers reveal chosen names and forms and attributes as They wish, when and where and to whom They wish. This isn’t done necessarily to frustrate or hurt us. Usually it’s to teach us something very important about how we should – or could – relate to Them.

Though I said that many, many possible lessons might come from this experience, there is one that I feel is especially relevant to any polytheist, devotionally-identified or not, and that is to let Them be as They wish to be. If we accept that the Powers have wills and desires of Their own, then it follows that They would have preferences regarding how They are related to by us (collectively and individually). The Power in your life might be getting tired of living up to the role of wacky sidekick, stern uncle, or distant mother. They might wish to express Themselves on Their own terms and so are leading you to acknowledge different sides of Them through the adoption of unfamiliar guises and behaviors.

You might discover that you really were talking to an entirely different Power than you thought you were. You might also discover that They were really only just Themselves all along.

Presenting at Many Gods West

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be presenting some brand new material at Many Gods West, a polytheist religious conference taking place in Olympia, WA later this summer. It’s a real treat to have the opportunity to explore religion, spiritual practice, ritual, and magick with such a diverse group of presenters and attendees.

I’ll be presenting a session called “The Labor of Love: (Re)Valuating the Purpose of Devotional Practice”. It’s my hope that this material will help further a consideration of what purpose devotional practice actually serves in our greater religious traditions and how the development of increasingly-articulate forms of devotional engagement actually contributes to the growth and maturation of the traditions that practitioners are part of. Some of the static surrounding a conversation about devotional practice is the opinion that this work is indulgent, delusional, or simply selfish; I hope to counter these attitudes by highlighting some of the physical and metaphysical advantages that this practice yields. (And to speak to a concern that I imagine a few of you have: No, I don’t think that devotion is important because of its concrete, measurable, or observable outcomes. I do plan to mention that valuating the human emotional experience at all is a problematic and potentially reductionist endeavor.)

Click here if you’d like to take a look at line-up of presenters and rituals. The precise schedule of events is still being determined but this is what the weekend has in store (though there’ll also be some musical performances, too).

If you’d like to know more about the event itself, visit the Many Gods West homepage. Registration is still open and last I knew there were still rooms open at the hotel.

I love teaching and sharing information and conferences are a great place to do this. I also get to meet lots of people that I’d never have the chance to otherwise. I’m by nature pretty reclusive – which is good since I can’t really afford to go far or do much. Finicky health also keeps me close to home and that can make traveling complicated, too. Needless to say I’m a little nervous about the trip for these and other reasons but I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Pacific Northwest and I’m very happy for the chance to spend some time there.

If you’re a little nervous about the prospect of going to such an event and, like me, kind of a socially awkward kid, perhaps think about coming anyway. We can stand in the corner and fidget together while thinking about the pets we left at home. (My cat, you guys! I’m gonna really miss my cat!)